Friday, July 12, 2024

The consumer is back — but for how long? Black Friday and today’s Cyber Monday shopping bonanzas hold outsize political significance this year with the retailing events emerging as key recession and inflation indicators.So far, so good. Bargain hunters turned out in force for Black Friday sales, and Cyber Monday is forecast to be even bigger. But with consumers showing signs of pulling back on spending, will this splurge be enough to save retailers’ Christmas and keep the U.S. economy from contracting or even plunging into recession?The White House is paying attention. Consumers have grown pessimistic about the economy, data shows. At the same time, President Biden’s polling numbers have fallen, with the economy seen as a glaring weaknesses.Biden’s advisers are pushing back. This past weekend, they pointed to strong Black Friday data as a sign of the economy’s resilience. Still, inflation remains a particular sore point with voters. According to The Washington Post, the White House has begun tracking inflation gripes posted on social media.The Fed will be watching, too. Inflation remains well above the central bank’s 2 percent target, prompting Jay Powell, the Fed chair, to signal that policymakers will likely keep borrowing costs higher for longer in an effort to cool down prices. This month’s retail data could be a factor in how the central bank approaches its interest rates policy next year.Here are some takeaways from Black Friday, including where people are shopping and how the pastime is changing.The U.S. consumer is still spending:Black Friday sales rose 2.5 percent in the U.S. compared to last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online sales.Retail foot traffic rose 2.1 percent in the same period. Will that be enough, though, to save America’s beleaguered shopping malls or its commercial real estate sector?Online shopping was the big winner. E-commerce sales jumped 7.5 percent to $9.8 billion, according to Adobe Analytics.But Black Friday looked different from past years:What to watch: The rise of so-called social commerce, which is big in Asia. TikTok is trying to bring the practice to the U.S. and turn the short-video app’s users into shoppers.

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